Out of Place: Homeless Mobilizations, Subcities, and Contested Landscapes

SUNY Press
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Homeless persons find themselves excluded, repressed, and displaced in all sectors of everyday life--from punitive police and city zoning practices to media stereotypes. Wandering through the streets of developing cities, these poorest of the poor have no place to go. More and more, these city developments are not simply accepted passively; rather, resistance by organized homeless groups--civil protests, squatting, and legal advocacy--spread as conditions of everyday life deteriorate for the very poor.

Out of Place: Homeless Mobilizations, Subcities, and Contested Landscapes details the development of two organized homeless resistances in two different cities. From the redevelopment protesters and squatting activities of the Student-Homeless Alliance in San Jose to the squatter camps of Tranquility City in Chicago, the differences and similarities between both groups are highlighted within the context of city redevelopment policies. Wright argues for considering homelessness not merely as an issue for social welfare, but first and foremost as a land use issue directly connected to issues of gentrification, displacement, and the cultural imaginings of what the city should look like by those who have the power to shape its development.

How the homeless combat the restructurings of everyday life, how they attempt to establish a "place" is understood within the context of tactical resistances. Questions of collective identity and collective action are raised as a result of the successful organizing efforts of homeless groups who refuse to be victims. The struggle between individual and collective forms of empowerment is highlighted, with the conclusions pointing to the necessity to rethink and go beyond the traditional solutions of more housing and job training.
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About the author

Talmadge Wright is Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Loyola University. He coauthored, with Mary Jo Huth, International Critical Perspectives on Homelessness.

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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Pages
408
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ISBN
9781438424460
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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During the past decade, homelessness became a widespread phenomenon in the United States for the first time since the Great Depression. The public frequently blamed the poor for their plight. Journalistic and academic accounts, in contrast, often evoked pathos and pity, regarding the homeless primarily as objects of treatment and rehabilitation. David Wagner challenges both of these dominant images, offering an ethnographic portrait of the poor that reveals their struggle not only to survive but also to create communities on the streets and to develop social movements on their own behalf. Definitely not passive victims, the homeless of Checkerboard Square survive within an alternative street culture, with its own norms and social organization, in a world often hidden from the view of researchers, journalists, and social workers. Checkerboard Square reveals the daily struggle of street people to organize their lives in the face of rejection by employers, government, landlords, and even their own families. Looking beyond the well-documented causes of homelessness such as lack of affordable housing or unemployment, Wagner shows how the poor often become homeless through resistance to the discipline of the workplace, authoritarian families, and the bureaucratic social welfare system. He explains why the crisis of homelessness is not only about the lack of services, housing, and jobs but a result of the very structure of the dominant institutions of work, family, and public social welfare.
Often described as an emergency, homelessness in America is becoming a chronic condition that reflects an overall decline in the nation's standard of living and the general state of the economy. This is the disturbing conclusion drawn by Martha Burt in Over the Edge, a timely book that takes a clear-eyed look at the astonishing surge in the homeless population during the 1980s. Assembling and analyzing data from 147 U.S. cities, Burt documents the increase in homelessness and proposes a comprehensive explanation of its causes, incorporating economic, personal, and policy determinants. Her unique research answers many provocative questions: Why did homelessness continue to spiral even after economic conditions improved in 1983? Why is it significantly greater in cities with both high poverty rates and high per capita income? What can be done about the problem? Burt points to the significant catalysts of homelessness—the decline of manufacturing jobs in the inner city, the increased cost of living, the tight rental housing market, diminished household income, and reductions in public benefit programs—all of which exert pressures on the more vulnerable of the extremely poor. She looks at the special problems facing the homeless, including the growing number of mentally ill and chemically dependent individuals, and explains why certain groups—minorities and low-skilled men, single men and women, and families headed by women—are at greatest risk of becoming homeless. Burt's analysis reveals that homelessness arises from no single factor, but is instead perpetuated by pivotal interactions between external social and economic conditions and personal vulnerabilities. From an understanding of these interactions, Over the Edge builds lucid, realistic recommendations for policymakers struggling to alleviate a situation of grave consequence for our entire society.
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